In a forthcoming solo show at Lindsay Gallery, the self-taught painter embraces bodily imperfections as evidence of a life lived
Joey Monsoon doesn’t like to paint clothing. Pants and shoes and shirts don't interest him, so he doesn't waste his time and energy on them.
“There’s a lot of emotional ups and downs in this work,” Monsoon said on a recent afternoon in his long, narrow basement studio, where recently completed paintings lean against white walls and shelves filled with art books. “There's a lot of heartbreak going on in each one of these paintings. I don't want to put myself through all that to paint a nice shirt.”
That’s one reason the women in the 10 paintings featured in “Joey Monsoon: Nudes,” which opens at Lindsay Gallery on Friday, Oct. 25, are depicted without clothing. But it’s more than that, too. The figures — thin, worn and weary — are a testament to what came before.
“A lot of what I'm trying to do with the bodies is to use them as evidence of a life lived or of a journey or experience. I'm kind of rebuilding a body out of pieces instead of going for perfection. I'm allowing those imperfect pieces to be put together for something stronger than it would have been had it just been a perfect body,” Monsoon said. “It’s almost like a shack built out of old pieces of wood that had been left outside and kind of weathered. And because the pieces that shack was made out of had already endured the wind and the light and the wet, that shack is going to be so much more stable and strong than one that comes out of the box with fresh wood.”
Monsoon’s method similarly embraced the role of imperfection. Instead of using only certain types of brushes and strokes, he made marks with oil sticks, steel wool and other implements. In some ways, it’s a return to Monsoon’s pre-painting days, when his love of comic books prompted him to start drawing. In the process, he learned to stay loose in his work.Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
“The more I would try to get really tight and do everything exactly, the less happy I would be with the work. The more I would allow accidents to happen and allow marks to happen that weren't necessarily intentional, those made the best images,” he said.
Nearby in the basement, another painting sits unfinished. While the partially obscured figure is visible, other lines and markings made by Monsoon litter the canvas, each vying for its continued existence. “I'm trying to figure out which ones deserve to stick around,” he said.
On the shelves, Monsoon’s art books trace his self-education. The work of graphic novelist Bill Sienkiewicz led him to early 20th century Austrian painter Egon Schiele. Other books feature works from “the beautiful losers” (artists such as Barry McGee and Margaret Kilgallen) and paintings by Francis Bacon, who had an artistic relationship with photographer John Deakin.
“John Deakin would take photos for him, and Francis Bacon would paint from those photos, but they would not be paintings of those photos. He would use them as the beginning of something,” said Monsoon, who thought of that relationship when he reached out to Columbus photographer Kate Sweeney and asked if he could use some of her photos as reference points. “I love her work. I wouldn't want to speak for her, but I think we have some similarities in how we see the body and how the body is so important to the work that we do, and I felt some kinship to the work that she was doing. … I'm not trying to recreate the faces or anything like that. I'm more looking for the gesture of the pose.”
(Monsoon also noted that he compensated Sweeney for the use of the photos as inspiration. “People steal people's photographs all the time, and as a fellow artist I wanted to be respectful of her work,” he said.)
Monsoon hopes the figures in these 10 oil paintings convey a balance of strength and vulnerability, and he stressed that even though they are nudes, they’re not intended to be erotic. They’re meant to convey lives of trial and pain — something that Monsoon can draw a line to in his own life. “It comes from an awareness of my own darkness, an awareness of my own experiences, both good and bad,” he said. “I wouldn't be who I am or how I am without those bad times, too.”